Waste Not, Want Not

It started with 40 acres. Of carrots. That had to rot in the ground because a local processing plant was over capacity. Department of Horticulture Professor Jed Colquhoun knew that there had to be a better way. Food waste is an issue that bothered him greatly—and it’s one that farmers are understandably passionate about as well.

Wisconsin is a nationwide leader in processed vegetables, and Professor Colquhoun saw a network that was ready to make a difference. He puts it best when he says, “Wisconsin producers and processors have always been very generous, and they’re very engaged in making this work.” What Professor Colquhoun has done is activate everyone along the line of production, from farmers to harvesters to canners.

Food waste starts with overabundance. Farmers and processors make planting decisions based on what the processing plant can handle, assuming an average yield. But what happens when the yield is above average? That’s where Professor Colquhoun’s network swoops in. By working with everyone involved in the process from farming to processing and canning, overabundant yields can be put to use, and farmers don’t have to waste their crops.

Once the food is safely harvested and canned, it can be distributed to Second Harvest food banks throughout the state, and go on to feed the hungry. In a nation with a growing problem of food insecurity and hunger, programs such as this do more than just meet a minimum requirement. They go above and beyond, providing locally sourced, fresh fruits and vegetables to those in need.

Professor Colquhoun’s model just may gain nationwide acceptance. Currently, Feeding America, the national oversight group for many food banks, is experimenting with models that mimic the one established in Wisconsin.

From one man trying to make a difference to a nationwide model that can feed millions, Professor Jed Colquhoun is proof that UW-Madison is a place where big innovations can lead to gigantic results.